Sunday, March 13, 2005

What if we have to start again?

"Bargain hunting for the best price is essentially the cause of the collapse."
In one sentence we have the essence of our predicament from writer David Fleming in an essay The Lean Economy: A Vision of Civility for a World in Trouble. His thesis is that we had our chance to prepare for the coming energy famine and we blew it. The warning came in the 1970s, and it was unheeded. Our focus on price and endless growth has been self-delusional and destructive to the very cultural traits we'll need to make the transition to a lower energy society.

Since, in his view, the crisis is upon us, our preparations should focus on how to downscale modern civilization drastically and humanely into one that uses 90 percent less energy. Some 60 percent will likely come from simply cutting way back on activities such as driving and commercial transport of goods, that is, essentially localizing our economy. The remaining 30 percent could come from efficiencies, essentially leaving us at the equivalent of one-third of today's energy benefits while having to generate only 10 percent of today's level of power. Not a complete bust, and, in fact, a rather enviable result given what we are facing.

His main concern is not technical, however; it is cultural. How do we rebuild a culture based on reciprocity and connection that does not flow from the impersonal marketplace? For this he has a formula, one that you might call anti-Adam Smith. "The Lean Economy will need both courage and independence," Fleming writes. He means independence from the chimeras of the market economy and perpetual growth. He means courage to embrace the kinds of cooperation and self-restraint that have become alien to us.

In a separate sidebar, he revisits the tale of the "Boy Who Cried Wolf" reminding us that the boy did ultimately prove correct and was eaten. So, it is with those who've been predicting the energy famine. They will be considered lunatics by most people right up until the moment when they finally prove right.

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

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